Review by Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2015
Get it now

Starting Shakespeare

Get it now

Scaffolded activities introduce Macbeth and Midsummer to young readers

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication & Collaboration

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
4-8
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

Take a look inside

5 images

Pros: Plain language narration summarizes plays alongside stellar acted scenes.

Cons: Full text of plays is not included in-app.

Bottom Line: Excerpted scenes and thought-provoking activities make the Bard accessible to Shakespearean beginners.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a great starter Shakespeare play for older elementary students, and teachers could use Starting Shakespeare to give students a summary of the play and introduce them to the language of Shakespeare without reading the entire play. Of course, they could go on to read the full text and perform it, even, to extend learning.

Macbeth, on the other hand, does deal with more mature themes and violence, so teachers would need to know their students and their community's expectations. The scenes featured show no blood, but the visual and sound effects (in particular, when Macduff stabs Macbeth) could be disturbing.

Teachers of advanced or gifted older elementary students would find the app and the activities especially helpful for introducing Shakespeare to their students.

Continue reading Show less

Starting Shakespeare is a supplemental guide for introducing kids to reading Shakespeare's plays. It was developed in Australia, so the teacher's guide is aligned to Australian standards, and the acting troupe from Bell Shakespeare presents the Bard with Australian accents and a couple of Australian colloquialisms. A brief written biography is included in the section Shakespeare's World, and the section Shakespeare's Plays explains the settings and types of plays -- history, comedy, tragedy, and romance -- that Shakespeare wrote, with a list of plays that fall into each category.

The two featured plays, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream, are the heart and soul of the app, though. Each play includes a summary, key scenes acted and explained, brief character summaries, and learning journeys. The learning journeys include four thought-provoking, creative activities that let students play with the play. For example, in Macbeth, students add vivid adjectives into the witches' spell to change the meaning, then they write their own gross spell, illustrate it with drawings or photos, and then record a dramatic reading of it.

Continue reading Show less

Just as the name implies, this is a great introduction for students' first exposure to Shakespeare. The full text of the play isn't included, which, while it may be missed by teachers, does help make the play more accessible and less intimidating for students. The summaries give an overview of the plot, and the key scenes give a taste of Shakespearean language. The Bell Players do a fabulous job of presenting the plays with animated passion, acting and reciting the lines as a narrator explains in plain language. Since students are getting an explanation as well as seeing the action and hearing the language of the play, they'll understand the plot as well as appreciate the language. It's all presented in short pieces to allow plenty of time for class discussion and related activities.

Continue reading Show less
Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Actors presenting scenes are relatable to kids and very engaging, presenting the language of the Bard in an approachable format for students just starting to explore his works.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Though the full text of the plays isn't included, students can explore characters, summaries, and excerpts from each and also complete thoughtful activities, playing with words and ideas from the plays.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There's a free teacher's guide with lesson plans and activities, but it's only available as an iBook, not within the app.


Common Sense Reviewer
Amanda Bindel Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 1 reviews) (1 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Christine F. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Van Wyck Junior High School
Wappingers Falls, NY
Good introduction, but wish there was more

For what this app provides, I don't think it is worth the money, but because I purchased it, I will use it to get students excited about reading Shakespeare's plays. It provides a very superficial understanding of the plot, and much is left out. For example, all of the characters aren't described, and while the plot summary is a good summary, that's all it is. Students will like the learning journeys, which are engaging. However, the activities aren't very deep, and they might not do much for helping them understand the language/plot of the story, but at this introductory stage, getting them hooked is crucial, and having them play with the concepts of spells will do that. Once I saw the first learning journey, I had hoped there would be similar ones for other key scenes, but there was only one. I see this as being useful for an introduction to the play, or one supplemental activity after reading the spell scenes, but if you plan on reading the entire play, as I do with my students, it doesn't offer much more.

Read full review